Saturday, July 22, 2006

The fog of war - 2

To continue and to return to the theme of disproportionality. Clearly an argument can be made for the airstrikes on al Manar TV. Precedents can be cited in the actions of NATO and US-led coalitions: Belgrade, Kabul, Baghdad.

But some people are looking for earlier precedents. Ami Isseroff, quoted by Jeff Weintraub: 'Nor does it matter if more Palestinian Arabs were killed. In the end, allied bombings of Germany killed many more Germans than the number of British killed by the Luftwaffe.'  It's a familiar theme. Benjamin Netanyahu on the BBC, Thursday 20/7:  'And if bodycount is the way you decide whether things are just or unjust, then the Nazis were right, because many more German civilians were killed than British or American civilians.' Isseroff continued, 'Nobody insisted that Dwight Eisenhower and Winston Churchill were "war criminals." '

Speaking as a British person, I have to say that this won't wash. The actions of Britain (and the US) in bombing German cities during the war would not have been acceptable under today's conventions. Some consider also that the actions were not militarily effective. Michael Axworthy, while conceding that 'in extremis, ends may justify means' and 'a mistake, however grave the consequences, is not necessarily a crime' argues that 'with hindsight [...] precision bombing would have been more effective in realising the allies' war aims, though RAF losses might well have been higher, at least initially' and 'by early 1945, at the latest, it should have been plain that the area bombing policy had not worked, that it had been a mistake.'  (Prospect magazine, March 2006)

Does Israel, in the current conflict, face 'an existential struggle, in which the losing side faced extinction of its political principles and way of life - at least' ? The impression is given that Israelis regard every crisis in that way. And one can understand that. But the self-image is the diametric opposite of the image many on the outside have, of the greatest military power in the region, backed by  the greatest military power in the world.

Some things are obvious in this crisis, such as the effect on Muslim opinion: it gives one more reason for them to hate Israel (and through it the US and its allies). This reaches a level of irrationality where dialogue breaks down: they refuse to listen to the arguments put by people on the Israeli / Jewish side. That was the impression I got from listening to part of the BBC's World Have your Say on Wednesday. In the Arab world, governments are criticised for their subservience to the US. Opposition parties in Egypt call for their country to turn its back on the peace agreement with Israel (The World Today, Friday morning). Large protests followed after Friday prayers, people expressing their support for Hezbollah. On the other hand, a BBC analyst pointed out that there is a small but influential number of writers who argue that the ideology of seeking confrontation with Israel is misguided and that the history of Arab states looking for conflict with Israel has been a disaster.

Kofi Annan, after his meeting with Tony Blair, Monday morning (17 Jul), put forward the idea of an international force. It has been recalled more than once in the French media that the French were involved with the Americans in a previous such force that was forced to withdraw ignominiously in 1983. It would be facing an enemy equipped with anti-tank weapons and so on, as we have seen. It would be going into an environment at least as difficult as Iraq or Afghanistan.

But calls for the Lebanese government to extend its authority to the southern border and disarm the militia are not realistic. It is too weak to do that. Israel may not really trust anyone other than itself, not even the US, to defend it, but it could accept the idea. Its red line is that Hezbollah be disarmed.

Bernard Kouchner, in his interview Friday that I linked to previously, returned time and time again to this idea of an international force (force d'interposition). He stressed that it needs to be a coercive one, deployed under chapter VII of the UN. It would face a difficult task, but as Kouchner says, ‘Arrêtons de croire que le principe de précaution va régler le problème.’ (Radio-Com, 21/7 3:30-5:09). Let´s stop thinking that there is an easy and safe solution to this problem. The solution passes through, not only the setting up of humanitarian corridors, but also accepting the right to intervene (droit d'ingérence). As well as the difficulties the force would face on the ground, Russia and China could block any resolution to authorise it in the UNSC, Kouchner thinks.

So, although the US and Britain may seem to be in a minority now, in opposing an immediate ceasefire, they could be supported by France in a proposal to deploy a force. After all, this would be with the aim of carrying out resolution 1559, which the America and France - 'united for once' - put through.

Later on Friday, after Condoleeza Rice announced details of visit to the Middle East, there was more talk of an intervention force: this would be mainly European, with a large French component. Turkey might also be involved. Ms Rice was also due to go to Rome, after her visit to the Middle East, to discuss the wider issues in the region. So, the pieces for diplomatic progress could be falling into place.

(More to follow. For the time being, here are links to a couple of pieces in today's FT that are worth reading, especially the first: War that came from a clear blue sky, Harvey Morris;   In Beirut it - almost - feels like the 1980s all over again, Roula Khalaf }

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